Brent Atkins, Senior Vice President Business Development at Progyny, shares the business development lessons he’s learned over the years that have defined his career. Learn about the one GrowBIG training that changed how Brent thought about how he communicates and builds relationships with clients, the skill that all serious business development professionals have to master to be effective, and why you can’t win at business by simply copying what works for other people.
Mo asks Brent Atkins: Tell me about the time you realized that business development was awesome.
- Brent learned early on the need for business development because he has done sales throughout his career. The one thing he realized from all his different work experiences was that he loved interacting with people and connecting with them. He understood that there was far more depth to sales than just telling someone your story.
- He had a desire to learn more and be more successful in his relationships in business and very quickly realized that there is a huge difference between talking to someone and listening to someone.
- Through the course of interacting with one of Brent’s early bosses, he learned he needed to be prepared for the questions he was going to ask Brent, but also that he needed answers to the questions from their perspective in order to serve them better. He needed to have a dialogue with the customer because all his knowledge about what he was selling was only one small piece of the overall business development process.
- The transition from talking to listening is a key mindset shift that all business development professionals need to learn.
- Brent now leads a team of many younger salespeople and helps them better understand the business development process. The first step is to help them want to learn more about business development, because without that desire, nothing else sticks.
- When setting meetings, Brent teaches people to set an objective for the meeting that you want the prospect to take away.
- If you have a lot of slides in your initial presentation, you’re making a mistake. Brent likes to start with a very light slidedeck in the beginning because his goal is to understand the reason for the meeting in the first place as well as the roles of the people he’s talking to.
- Brent is a big proponent of the pregnant pause. When you get a response, follow it up with another thoughtful question. Follow ups are where you get traction in a relationship.
- When it comes to the fertility space, Brent starts out with curiosity. Asking them about their familiarity with the space and exploring their experience is the foundation for a more fruitful conversation and almost always leads to how his solution solves their issue. It sets the tone for the conversation and allows him and his team to come back with a robust solution for their problem.
Mo asks Brent Atkins: What is your personal definition of business development?
- When training his team, he tells them to “build your brand.” The way they go about building relationships and adding value will be different from Brent’s, and they need to lean into that.
- When Brent worked on the carrier side of the business, his first goal when developing new business relationships was becoming a trusted individual in that person’s network. Brent always strived to have the credibility to say when he wasn’t a good fit for someone, and by being willing to do that, when his solution was the right fit, he had that person’s attention and trust.
- Progyny has a great solution, but it’s not the right fit for every organization right away. When that is the case, Brent digs into other areas of the business they want to improve on and offers material on how they impact those areas to see if that makes sense. Once they do those steps, the prospect often comes back with Brent in the #1 position in their mind.
- We’ve all experienced a situation where we felt like we had a great connection but it resulted in silence. Brent tells the story of when that happened to him and how by letting them know that he didn’t have their attention right now, but he would like to reconnect in the future when they're ready, and how that got him an immediate response.
- To child trust, connect with the prospect at their level. Ask them questions and give them the space to answer. When you are dealing with someone on an individual basis, they might tell you something real about themselves, and if you can remember that it shows that you think they’re important and want to connect in a thoughtful way.
- The people that develop the deepest relationships are the ones that are interested in the other person. Finding things in common is one of the highest correlations to likeability.
Mo asks Brent Atkins: What is your favorite science, step, or story from the GrowBIG training or Snowball System?
- Brent’s first favorite teaching is the walk around the brain. The science of how different people think is unbelievably valuable and creating a presentation that touches on all four quadrants is very effective.
- For Progyny, that looks like recognizing that the appeal of their program changes from Red/Yellow to Green/Blue as they move up the continuum of decision makers has been game changing.
- The four quadrants being strategic, practical, analytical, and relational.
- For Progyny, Strategic looks like finding ways to improve an organization’s benefit spend that adds value and speaks to diversity and inclusion initiatives. It’s about listening to the organization's priorities and tailoring the offer to that.
- For Practical, Progyny has been in business for seven years now and has a retention of 99%, so they have been changing their story from the cutting edge solution to the safe choice for organizations.
- People don’t buy Progyny for the dollar benefits, although that is important. They buy for the experience of helping people create families.
- Progyny focuses on creating the story for an organization that gets them to mentally buy in before dealing with the analytical aspects.
- You do not have to be a commodity. So many professionals get into a race to the bottom about pricing because they don’t talk about it properly.
- Managing the metrics associated with the business development process is critically important to the success of the organization.
- You have to create the curiosity to create the need. Once you create the need you create the story. Once you create the story and ask for a couple pieces of information, you build your model. When you follow that process, you will have a much higher closing rate.
Mo asks Brent Atkins: Tell us a business development story that you are really proud of.
- Brent tells the story of his days before Progyny as a middle market sales person for a national carrier. He had a competitive product and was finding a lot of success at the time, but there was one broker relationship that he couldn’t crack.
- He had to change the paradigm of his relationship by turning down a request for proposal from them, and in the ensuing conversation, he found out why he wasn’t getting the traction from them before.
- After sitting down with the client for two and a half hours, he became one of Brent’s close friends, and Brent won three out of five of the next opportunities that he sent in.
- The approach of wanting to learn what was lacking in Brent's approach was the key to opening up the relationship. Asking for help or advice is one of the biggest bonding things you can do to create trust and build an authentic relationship.
- They spent roughly half that time talking about business and getting into the details, and the rest, connecting with him on a personal level. Winning the business is great, but Brent considers turning that person into a friend the biggest win of all.
- Being vulnerable was key in that interaction. Vulnerability is something that he teaches his team to embrace, and to be willing to learn why they didn’t win when it happens. It’s about using the loss to set up a future win.
- Brent hears the response “no for now” quite frequently. If that’s the case, he encourages his team to figure out what the hurdle was and develop a strategy to keep the relationship alive with adding value, Give to Gets, and providing intellectual capital that makes you the easy choice in the future.
Mo asks Brent Atkins: If you could record a video on business development and send it to your younger self, what would you say?
- In the early days of Brent’s business development career, he did things very differently. The first thing he would say is to listen. Brent hears more things now during the course of a conversation with active listening, which is the opposite from how his younger self operated.
- There is an impulse when you’re young and fresh to tell everyone what you know, but listening and asking questions are how you really learn how to sell.
- Every product or service has multiple ways you can position it to win. If you listen, you can be much more effective in that effort.
- Brent is a student of business development even now. The first 21 days of a relationship are extremely important to solidify a bond. Reaching out to continue the conversation and creating that bond allows you to come back months or years later and pick up that conversation in the same way you would with an old friend.
- The final tip would be to build your brand. People are taught sales skills and usually want to apply them the exact way they are taught. Take what you’re doing and make it yours.
- Whatever sales skills you are working on, you need to make them authentically yours for them to be effective.
- The great business development rainmakers never stop learning. Brent is always looking to improve and work on his skills, especially in leverage tools like MIT’s and the Protemoi list.
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